REVIEW: The House with a Clock in its Walls

Just a reminder that 2018 has seen filmmaker, Eli Roth, direct both the family fun flick, The House with a Clock in its Walls and the bloody vengeance thriller, Death Wish. Contrasting much?

The young Lewis moves in with his oddball Uncle Jonathan who happens to practice the magical arts with his feisty neighbour, Mrs. Zimmerman, as the two choose to teach Lewis the ways of sorcery in preparation for the unavoidable awakening of a villainous warlock who’s presence still haunts the walls of Jonathan’s house.

So rumour has it that Steven Spielberg, himself, convinced Eli Roth to direct this magical tale, and, you know what, the world continues to be a better place because of Spielberg. The House with a Clock in its Walls is a surprisingly fun and charming little adventure that takes a rather basic story with all its cliches and faults and elevates its material with a unique touch from Roth and his cast and crew. So yeah, I don’t know how you picked it Spielberg, but Roth was a brilliant choice for this little doohickey.

I was honestly surprised with how much I enjoyed this movie. The House with a Clock in its Walls unsurprisingly flew under my radar during it’s marketing campaign as it was only really the curiosity I bore towards what Roth (traditionally a torture porn director) could do with an adaptation of a children’s book that drove me to the cinema. In a Goosebumps flavoured production, The House with a Clock in its Walls really captured a field of cinema that I felt had almost entirely been forgotten in our current cinematic landscape: that field being horror filmmaking for child audiences.

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(Tobias 2018)

Yeah, you heard me right – horror filmmaking for child audiences.

Many people do not know this but before Spielberg made a name for himself directing family films back in the 70’s, the director’s first ever feature length flick was in fact a thriller entitled Duel. It was not long after this that Spielberg’s breakthrough film, Jaws, hit cinemas which garnered such high popularity since that it no longer became identified as what it is and always was – a horror film. And since then, Spielberg’s work on more adventurous family flicks like E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Jurassic Park and even the Indiana Jones trilogy have earned the director title of the best blockbuster family filmmaker to have ever lived… what I am trying to say here is that sometimes the best child friendly films can come from traditionally horror thriller directors.

Roth, best known for his work on the Hostel films and The Green Inferno dabbles in his first real family film to great effect, offering his darker approach towards filmmaking to really alter one’s perception of what a kids movie can be. I believe effective horror is essential to making a great children’s flick, since, where is the fun in anything if everything is just light fluff? Life’s not all rainbows and unicorns; there are darker corners and freaky elements out there in the world. I am not saying movies should be more realistic and kids deserve to be traumatized; what I am saying is taking scares and creepy moments out of kid movies are detriment to really showing how effective and powerful a family film can be when there is real dread and terror. Watching the protagonist prevail over true horror is way, way, way more triumphant, because it helps the audience connect more to the character’s plight. And when dealing with a story which is largely fantasy driven, the horror should be amplified to a certain extent to really sell audiences on the functionality behind the filmmaker’s world. The House with a Clock in its Walls is what I perceive as well done old school family filmmaking where horror is safely laced within the confines of the film to really sell an engaging child’s story for all ages to actually enjoy. So well done, Roth; maybe stick to these types of films instead of your more brutish Death Wish approaches.

On the contrary, The House with a Clock in its Walls does follow a rather basic story structure. The narrative is not as creative as it possibly could have been as it is not until the final half an hour where the absurdity of the film and its concepts really explode into something completely fulfilling and engaging to watch. The final half an hour includes effective twists, story revelations and character growth that really sells what this film could have been entirely. Not to say The House with a Clock in its Walls is a bad movie leading up to the last act; it’s just that the movie appears more cookie cutter structured beforehand whereas after a certain point the story becomes a little unpredictable and all the better for it.

You really have to hand it to Jack Black who continues to charm and ignite wonder and awe in all his performances. In The House with a Clock in its Walls, Black is undoubtedly enjoyable as a roaring flame that burns in the fireplace of the house that ticks, as alongside him, stoking the embers with such power, Cate Blanchett manages to bounce off any actor she works with. In fact, Blanchett really shines in this movie and alongside Black the two share some awesome chemistry that leaves nothing to be desired.

On the other hand though, the child performances in The House with a Clock in its Walls really sucked. Granted it is difficult for child actors, especially when side by side with grand performers like Black and Blanchett, but the acting in the case of this movie was particularly poor. Owen Vaccaro and Sunny Suljic gave such nothing performances that it pains me to say they, along with the other supporting child actors, really drained my enjoyment of this movie whenever they featured heavily onscreen.

The House with a Clock in its Walls can get a bit exposition heavy and some of its humour can feel misplaced and unnecessary at times, but the faults can certainly be forgiven due to the insanely good production and art designs in this movie. I’m not being funny here when I say The House with a Clock in its Walls is one of the most detailed and precisely designed films I have seen in 2018. Although the feature is set in the 1950s and therefore adopts the key look of a 1950s town and its people, The House with a Clock in its Walls equally excels in crafting a steampunk inspired horror landscape. The costumes are all incredible and the make-up and hairstyling alongside the suits and dresses shine immensely. Yet, the overall design of the house and its little trinkets and crevices feel so magnified, as if centre staged to really show off the film’s capacity to structure visual art; capturing the type of insane detail you would once be able to pick from an early 90s Tim Burton film.

So there are a lot of things to love about The House with a Clock in its Walls and only a few things to dislike. With an awesome appearance from Kyle MacLachlan (who could have easily just been exploring another aspect of his role as Detective Cooper from Twin Peaks), The House with a Clock in its Walls really proved to me that its one of 2018’s most surprising hits so far. Not perfect, but a joy to watch – times ticking on the doomsday clock, so my advice would be to see Roth’s newest film now, before the clock strikes an awkward hour.

The House with a Clock in its Walls is a bloody… CRUSADE!!

 

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